I visited Madeira several times over the past 10 years. Often people ask me what they should visit when they travel to Madeira. Here’s my list of things to do on Madeira:
Things to do on Madeira
Madeira might be a rather small island, but it has some very nice places to discover!
1. Levada walks
The levadas are irrigation channels that have been built over the past hundreds of years on Madeira. To maintain and manage them, each of the channels has a small path next to it. Walking theses paths is one of the nice things to do when visiting Madeira! My two favorites are the Levada Nord and the Levada 25 fontes. The irrigation channels sometimes even go underground, so don’t forget the light! Walking the levadas requires to be in shape and not to have to much vertigo. But once you’re hiking out, you experience one of the purest and nicest ways in nature. Most hotels in Madeira will be happy to drive you to an access into the Levadas and pick you up at the end of your walk. take your picnic, hiking shoes and camera, and have a great day!
The capital of the island is also the main access gate. Both the port and the airport are on the territory of Funchal. The Santa Catarina Park, with the statue of Christopher Columbus, is a nice place to hang out. You’ll find lots of restaurants, bars and coffee places in the center. When in the city, the Blandy’s wine lodge should be part of your program at least once. This house is one of the most know Madeira wine houses.
You could also see if you meet the family of Cristiano Ronaldo. This super star football (soccer, for my american readers) was born here in Funchal, in 1985. If you happen to be in Funchal on a day that the national team of Portugal plays, make sure you’re part of the crowd watching the game somewhere. If you thought the Italians to be crazy about the game, you hadn’t seen the Portuguese.
Take some time to visit the harbor. You might see the replica of Christopher Columbus’ ships, or one of the many cruise ships has Funchal as port of call.
And, for some strange advise: don’t forget to look down in Funchal every once and a while. Some parts of the sidewalks are pieces of art.
3. Porto Moniz Natural Pool
These pools, formed in the middle of lava rocks, allow you to swim in the breaking waves without being swept away and smashed against the rocks. The pool is in Porto Moniz, on the west side of Madeira. Bring a towel and an extra sweater: it can be cold when you get out of the water, but you’ll be part of the attraction for all the people that show up to supporter for the swimmers.
Grab a hot cocoa or a coffee after your heroic swimming moment!
4. Ponto Do Pargo – lighthouse
Ponto do Pargo is 45 minutes away from Ponta Do Sol, or about an hour from Funchal. Take the time into account: driving back on the small mountain roads is not everyone’s favorite time passing. The lighthouse is located on the most western point of Madeira.
I alway imagine that this location was the last thing that Christopher Columbus could see when he sailed west. He made a stop in Madeira (where he lived for a while), and must have passed this point before heading for the discovery of America. He couldn’t see the lighthouse, as it was built in 1922…
The cliffs around the lighthouse are extremely steep, and there is no protection on most places. This is not the place to have the kids wondering around by themselves. Don’t forget the winds can be pretty hard here, and push your balance.
5. A round of golf on Palheiro golf
If you are in to golf, then one of the things to do on Madeira is to drive up to the Palheiro Golf Club, and tee off in one of the nicer courses in Europe. A par 3 that takes you several meters down: holes 3 and 5 serve you well. A nice halfway house to get fresh drinks and get into the back nine. The clubhouse has all accommodations you can wish for.
“Palheiro” means “stable for cows”. But the luxury of the club, and the villas surrounding it do not remember of any herding or farming history. If you like to make your vacation on Madeira around golf, try to see who’s renting out one of their places that gets you in 1 step on the course.
The terrace of the golf club overlooks the valley of Funchal, so don’t forget to have your 19th hole drink before getting back. The view is so worth it.
6. Botanical Garden
One of the nicknames for Madeira is The Flower Island. When you visit the island, you’ll see beautiful flowers everywhere. But going to the botanical gardens in Funchal adds to that. Here you’ll find so many varieties more than you’ll see in the wild.
The Garden has adjacent to it a small zoo. That was for me the thing I disliked the most here. The animals are in very small cages. This park would do better to set these animals free or give them to a place that can better care for them, and expand their botanical beauty in the area that they would gain this way.
7. Monte, the teleferico and the tobogans
When you are in Funchal, you can see Monte, and its typical church, high up in the mountains. You can drive up there with you (rental) car, or take the cable car from Funchal to Monte. If you plan on coming down with the tobogans, this is how you avoid to abandon your car there. Monte overlooks Funchal, not only visual but also spiritual. The church in Monte is the most important one on the island. Visiting Monte must be part of the things to do on Madeira.
The church in Monte is the most important Mother Maria location in Madeira. The church of Our Lady of Monte (Nossa Senhora Do Monte) is build in 1818 (after an earthquake) on the location where since the 15th century pilgrims came to worship Maria. She’s the patron saint of the whole of Funchal. Come here on the 15th of August (the name day for Maria) and you’ll see the procession. A unique spectacle that I saw for the first time in 2007.
The cable car that brings you from Funchal to Monte, the Teleferico de Funchal, is the easiest way to get from Funchal to Monte and back since 2000. It replaces a railway system that was dismantled during the world war II.
Tobogans are an older way of descending to Funchal. It’s now a tourist attraction (trap?), including the sales of a picture at the end. It’s part of the things to do on Madeira, a must-do-because-you-are-here, just once.
8. Faja dos Padres
Since the early days of the colonisation of Madeira, monks (padres) had their plantation here. The micro climate that exists in this particular place makes it one of the best agriculture terrains on the island. The padres harvested the food from the fields at the foot of the cliff. Today, you still can eat these fresh avocado here. There is a small beach and a platform that gives you access to the ocean.
The most spectacular part however of your visit is the elevator that brings you down hundreds of meters to this oasis.
9.Fresh & Fish Market
In one of the wider streets of Funchal, pretty close to the Atlantic Ocean border, you’ll find a hall that hosts farmers, fishermen and craft workers to sell their goods. You’ll see a mixture of tourists and locals. The produces sold are fresh and very tasty.
The market “Mercado dos Lavradores” in the Hospital Velho, is a unique place to stroll around. But also to get your fresh dose of vitamins and fruit. It’s worth a small detour and the time.
10.Pico Do Ariero
The Pico Do Ariero is the highest point on Madeira. The weather here can be very different from what you encountered at the sea side. We’ve been here a couple of times overlooking the clouds below us.
The route from Funchal to the Pico do Ariero is a beautiful route. The landscape changes every turn. And sudden, you are above the trees. Don’t forget to check out the snow cabin, where ice was stored for the fishermen, before we had freezers and fridges.
If the visibility is OK, and you took the same precautions and preparations as for a regular Levada walk, you could try to walk across between the two mountain tops. The walk between the Pico do Arieiro and the Pico Ruivo are spectacular things to do on Madeira.
and bonus:You must learn to know the different madeira wines!
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.